Category Archives: Agriculture

EnviroWatch: Fracked, nuked, heated, dried


Plus critters, health, and more.

First, via United Press International, a major development:

New York state bans fracking

New York state on Wednesday banned the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a means of extracting natural gas after a years-long study by environmental and health officials.

There had been an indefinite moratorium placed on fracking in the state since 2008 when then-N.Y. Gov. David Paterson ordered a review on the safety of the controversial process.

N.Y. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Wednesday declared he wouldn’t be comfortable if his own children were to live near a fracking site.

“I cannot support high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” he said during a year-end meeting of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet.

From Al Jazeera America, implications:

New York fracking ban reverberates nationally

  • Activists say the ban, announced by Gov. Cuomo Wednesday, will embolden the anti-fracking movement in several states

The news took even the most seasoned environmental activists by surprise: after years of review, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York State would ban hydraulic fracturing.

“I can barely contain myself,” said Nadia Steinzor, the eastern coordinator for national non-profit Earthworks. “Even though Cuomo recently said he was going to make a clear decision, we were not expecting something as exciting and straightforward as this.”

Activists hope that Cuomo’s decision will spark more bans across the country. “The fact that they took such a clear conclusion on these health risks sends a very strong signal that will reverberate nationwide about the risks to water, land and health,” Steinzor said.

From EcoWatch, more reinforcement:

Families Forced to Flee Their Homes From Out-of-Control Leak at Fracking Well

More than two dozen families have been forced to flee their homes in Monroe County in eastern Ohio as natural gas poured from a leak at an unused fracking well, the C0lumbus Dispatch revealed.

According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle, crews lost control of the well Saturday and have not yet been able to stop the leak. Families were evacuated from homes within a 1.5-mile radius of the well near the Ohio River. “There’s still a steady stream of natural gas coming from the wellhead,” said McCorkle.

Texas-based Triad Hunter, which owns the drilling site, released a statement saying it had “experienced a loss of control of a well, the Stalder 3UH, located in Monroe County, Ohio. The previously drilled and completed Stalder 3UH well had been temporarily plugged and abandoned in preparation for the drilling of three additional Utica horizontal wells on the Stalder pad. However, despite numerous precautionary measures taken in connection with the temporary plugging and abandonment operation, the well began to flow uncontrollably while recommencing production operations. Triad Hunter personnel were removing the well’s night cap flange when a pressure disruption occurred. They attempted to bolt back down this equipment but were not able to safely do so prior to natural gas flowback.”

From the Ecologist, more fracking woes, potentially much more devastating:

With sub-$60 oil, fracking and tar sands losses threaten the whole financial system

A new financial crisis is threatening to dwarf the ‘subprime’ mortgage debacle, writes Paul Mobbs. Cheap money from central banks has fuelled some $1.3 trillion of risky investments in high-cost ‘unconventional’ oil and gas. Now, with oil sinking below $60, all that paper is turning to junk – and that’s putting the entire economic system at risk.

Brought about by the recent fall in oil prices, investors are beginning to review the economics of unconventional oil and gas. For the last few years there have been a number of damning reports about the economics of unconventional fossil fuels.

Now it seems those long-ignored observations are being taken seriously by the money-lenders of Wall Street.

Deck the halls with. . .Whoa! WTF? Via the Guardian:

Toxic chemicals found in majority of holiday decorations

A new study tested seasonal products from retailers Walmart, Target and CVS. Two-thirds contained substances linked to cancer, learning disabilities and other health problems

A range of seasonal holiday products containing high levels of toxic chemicals are being sold by top retailers, including Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Kroger, Lowe’s, CVS and Dollar Tree, according to a new study.

Researchers for the environmental non-profit The Ecology Center tested 69 seasonal holiday products and found that two-thirds contained one or more hazardous chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems.

Purchased at seven retail stores in southeast Michigan, researchers tested beaded and tinsel garlands, artificial wreaths and greenery, stockings, figurines and other tabletop decorations, and gift bags. The study identified lead, flame retardants, tin compounds and phthalates, among other hazardous substances. These have been variously linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer.

Measles on the rise in South Africa, via StarAfrica:

S/Africa on measles alert

South Africa’s five provinces of Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and Western Cape have been hit by measles, Health Ministry spokesman Joe Maila confirmed on Tuesday.

Some 49 laboratory stations confirmed measles cases had been noted since the beginning of this year, with the majority of the cases being reported in the Northern Cape Province which has recorded 18 measles cases to date, Maila said.

He said the ministry was working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to contain the virus and ensure that it would not spread further.

“Indeed, there is a breakout of measles in South Africa. However, we are doing everything (possible) to make sure that we contain it so that it should not spread at the level that would get people worried,” he added.

Global Times covers the tragic:

Village votes to expel HIV-positive child

  • Expert: needs care ‘immediately’

An 8-year-old boy was allegedly facing expulsion from a village in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province for being HIV-positive, news portal people.com.cn reported on Wednesday.

More than 200 villagers, including the boy’s grandfather, in Shufangya village, Liqiao township, signed an agreement on December 7 agreeing to expel the boy in an effort to “protect villagers’ health.”

Kunkun (pseudonym), the boy, was found to be HIV-positive in 2011 when he received treatment for minor injuries, according to his grandfather, surnamed Luo.

Luo, 69, said that the HIV virus was transmitted to the boy from his mother.

From the Associated Press, corporate killings:

14 charged in deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak

In the biggest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine, 14 former owners or employees of a Massachusetts pharmacy were charged Wednesday in connection with a 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people.

The nationwide outbreak was traced to tainted drug injections manufactured by the now-closed New England Compounding Pharmacy of Framingham.

Barry Cadden, a co-founder of the business, and Glenn Adam Chin, a pharmacist who was in charge of the sterile room, were hit with the most serious charges, accused in a federal racketeering indictment of causing the deaths of 25 patients in seven states by “acting in wanton and willful disregard of the likelihood” of death or great bodily harm.

Among other things, Cadden, Chin and others are accused of using expired ingredients, failing to properly sterilize drugs and failing to test them to make sure they were pure. The other defendants were charged with such crimes as fraud and interstate sale of adulterated drugs.

From the Guardian, GMO incrementalism?:

Australian organic regulator pushes for GM-tainted crops to retain certification

  • Move would protect farmers from losing their organic certification because of accidental contamination

One of the bodies that regulates Australian organic standards is pushing to allow crops that are accidentally contaminated with genetically modified material to retain their organic certification, in a move that would bring Australia in line with European regulators.

Under current Australian organic standards, products lose organic certification if they contain any level of GM material.

That’s what happened to Western Australian farmer Steve Marsh, who took his neighbour Mark Baxter to the WA supreme court claiming GM pollen from Baxter’s farm caused him to lose organic certification on part of his property. Marsh lost the case and has lodged an appeal.

But regulator Australian Certified Organic (ACO) has applied to the Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council (OISCC) to change the standards to allow a minimum level of “advantageous contamination” in organic crops, so long as GM material is not detectable in the end product.

Reuters covers more GMO politicking:

U.S, China making progress on biotech crop talks: USDA’s Vilsack

The United States and China are making progress in talks over Beijing’s acceptance of new biotechnology for crops, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Wednesday.

The countries are “moving toward an understanding of how we might be able to establish a strategic dialogue on biotechnology,” Vilsack told Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang in a bilateral meeting in Chicago.

Biotech crops are a key trade issue between the countries because China has rejected more than 1 million tons of U.S. corn containing traces of a type of genetically modified corn, Agrisure Viptera, in the past year. The strain, developed by Syngenta AG, is approved for planting in the United States but not for import by Beijing.

From the Guardian, resistance to the neoliberal environmental agenda:

Italy says it will oppose EU plans to scrap environment law

  • Eleven member states signed letter opposing withdrawal of draft EU law on air quality and waste

Plans by European policymakers to scrap a draft EU law on air quality and waste send a “negative signal” about Europe’s ambition to curb climate change and governments will challenge them, the Italian environment minister said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the European commission laid out its legislative plans for 2015, saying it would focus on priorities such as jobs and economic growth. At the same time, it planned to withdraw some proposals made by the previous EU executive, including on improving air quality and cutting waste.

Environment minister Gian Luca Galletti of Italy, holder of the rotating EU presidency, was one of 11 EU ministers who signed a letter to the commission saying they opposed plans to tear up environmental legislation. He told journalists the opposition would continue.

After the jump, climatic grounds for pick-me-up angst, the U.S. Southwest looks to replenish a critical reservoir, oceans now come with a plastic lining?, Obama saves a bay — at least for now, Peruvian environmental murders, the tragic price of Chinese ivory hunger, the Navajo coal problem, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now! and yet another leak, and a singularly bad timing problem, bad news for Japan’s power customer, another nuclear plant moves closer to a restart, and more ratepayer woes. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Delays, numbers, politics, zeal


We open with a critique, via the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Donors and WHO responded too slowly to West Africa Ebola outbreak – report

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the nations that fund it failed to respond quickly and effectively to the deadly West Africa Ebola outbreak despite repeated warnings by aid agencies, a UK parliamentary committee said on Thursday.

Ebola cases are rising dramatically in Sierra Leone, and the House of Commons International Development Committee said the  international response was still “being outpaced on all fronts” by the spread of the Ebola virus in the former British colony.

The Ebola virus has killed more than 6,800 people and infected around 18,500 since March in West Africa, where poverty, corruption and civil war have left weak healthcare systems unable to cope with the spread of the disease.

The WHO’s response has been characterised by unnecessary bureaucracy and a failure to “see some fairly plain writing on the wall,” the report said.

The medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres had warned that the epidemic had reached unprecedented proportions in June 2014, it added.

The New York Times covers travel:

U.N. Secretary General to Visit Ebola-Plagued Nations

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, plans to visit the three West African countries that have been hit the hardest by the Ebola outbreak, according to a senior United Nations official.

Mr. Ban is to make the announcement at a year-end news conference on Wednesday. The director general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, and his special envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, are to accompany him to West Africa.

The trip, which is to begin later this week, seems designed to send a message of solidarity with the three affected countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Reuters has the latest numbers:

Ebola toll nears 7,000; rate of spread slows in Sierra Leone – WHO

The death toll in the Ebola epidemic has risen to 6,915 out of 18,603 cases as of Dec. 14, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

There are signs that the increase in incidence in Sierra Leone has slowed, although 327 new cases were confirmed there in the past week, including 125 in the capital Freetown, the WHO said in its latest update.

“A major operation has been implemented to curb the spread of disease in the west of the country,” it said.

The totals for the three hardest hit countries from the latest World Health Organization Situation Report, released Wednesday:

BLOG Ebola cases

The World Food Programme sounds a hunger alert:

Ebola Leaves Hundreds Of Thousands Facing Hunger In Three Worst-Hit Countries

  • Lack of access to food in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone could threaten over one million people

The number of people facing food insecurity due to the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone could top one million by March 2015 unless access to food is drastically improved and measures are put in place to safeguard crop and livestock production, two UN agencies warned.

The disease’s impact is potentially devastating in the three countries already coping with chronic food insecurity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said in three country reports published today.

Border closures, quarantines, hunting bans and other restrictions are seriously hindering people’s access to food, threatening their livelihoods, disrupting food markets and processing chains, and exacerbating shortages stemming from crop losses in areas with the highest Ebola infection rates, the FAO-WFP reports stressed.

In December 2014, half a million people are estimated to be severely food insecure in the three worst hit Western African countries.

From El País, Spanish Ebola problems:

Multiple deficiencies uncovered at hospital that treated Ebola victims

  • Madrid’s Carlos III had confusing protocols and inadequate personnel training, report finds

The Madrid hospital where nursing assistant Teresa Romero contracted Ebola while treating an infected patient suffered from multiple deficiencies, a new report finds.

Insufficient personnel training, changing protocols, inadequate facilities for putting on and taking off protective suits, and other shortcomings were all listed in the study of La Paz-Carlos III hospital carried out by work inspectors.

The center has treated all of Spain’s Ebola cases, which include two patients repatriated from Africa as well as Romero, who was an employee there. Several dozen people who came into contact with the nursing aide while she was contagious were also kept under observation at Carlos III.

On to Africa, starting with a suspected case from StarAfrica:

Ebola: Guinean under close watch in G/Bissau

A citizen of Guinea Conakry is under close medical watch in Guinea Bissau’s Gabu hospital under suspicion of contracting Ebola, according to national radio quoting hospital sources on Tuesday.According to sources, the individual who is around 40 years of age has been showing symptoms similar to the virus including a temperature of just over 38 degrees.

However, the same sources were quoted by the national radio as pointing out that the suspected patient’s body temperature gradually decreased in recent hours.

In any case, he will be remaining under medical observation for 21 days, sources indicated.

On to the hardest hit country with Sky News:

Sierra Leone Braced For Increase In Ebola Cases

  • Fears of a sharp increase of cases mean even those who have not died from the disease are being buried in Ebola graveyards

Sierra Leone, caught in the grip of the Ebola crisis, is bracing itself for a sharp increase in cases of the killer disease over the Christmas period.

The Government is so worried about the situation it has outlawed any seasonal public celebrations and will be putting soldiers on the street to make sure no one disobeys the directive.

The outbreak of the virus, which began a year ago in neighbouring Guinea and quickly spread to Liberia, is now dominating the lives of everyone in Sierra Leone.

The western part of the country, including the capital Freetown where around a third of the population of more than six million lives, is bearing the brunt of the current upturn in cases.

From BBC News, desperate measures:

Ebola: Sierra Leone begins house-to-house searches

Sierra Leone has begun house-to-house searches in the capital Freetown to find hidden cases of Ebola.

President Ernest Bai Koroma said that Sunday trading would be banned and travel between districts restricted. The president said that as Christmas approached, people would need to be reminded that Sierra Leona was at war with a “vicious enemy”.

Sierra Leone has overtaken Liberia to have the highest number of Ebola cases, World Health Organization figures show.

The president said that while many districts of the country had made progress in fighting Ebola, challenges still remained in the western part of the country, which for the past two weeks had accounted for 50% of new infections.

He said that he was introducing an action plan, Operation Western Area Surge, to encourage people to come forward if they had a fever or other symptoms of Ebola.

He said it was necessary to introduce such stringent measures even though it was the festive season – a time when people would normally “celebrate with their families in a joyous manner”.

And a video report from CCTV Africa:

Ebola: Sierra Leone President bans Christmas Celebrations

Program notes:

Sierra Leone’s president confirmed a ban on parties and other festivities over the Christmas and New Year holidays and a “surge” to hunt for hidden Ebola patients. This as registered cases reach alarming numbers. CCTV’s Clementine Logan reports

Presidential spin from the State House Communications Unit:

CDC Chief Impressed with President Koroma

Director for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States Dr Tom Frieden has described the “Western Area Surge” as a step in the right direction, adding that President Koroma’s leadership of the national response against Ebola is very effective.

“Last time when we met I was deeply impressed by your understanding of the virus,” he told the president.

The CDC Director expressed these sentiments during a courtesy call on President Koroma at State House, Freetown where they assessed the response to the outbreak so far. After one hundred days since he last visited Sierra Leone, Dr Frieden’s visit is part of concerted efforts by CDC and other United States Government agencies and international partners to take aggressive steps to control the spreading virus.

Welcoming the delegation, President Koroma stated that the country has made tremendous progress in building its capacity to fend off the disease. “We now have an increase in treatment and holding centers, laboratory capacity has also increased and spread out across the country; a situation that has limited the movement of people from one region to the other for treatment,” he said.

The Sierra Leone Concord Times covers the youngest victims:

Street Child supports over 1,000 Ebola orphans in South-East

One of Sierra Leone’s leading child protection agencies working with Ebola orphans in the country, Street Child of Sierra Leone (SCoSL), has provided food and non-food items to some one thousand and ninety-one (1,091) children orphaned by the deadly outbreak in eight chiefdoms in Kailahun district and three chiefdoms in Kenema district respectively. The donated items include rice, cooking condiments, toiletries and mattresses.

SCoSL’s Head of Communications, Advocacy and Mini Projects, Moses Lamin Karama, told Concord Times that his organization has supported a total of 656 Ebola orphans in 194 families in eight chiefdoms – Luawa, Kissi Teng, Kissi Tongi, Kissi Kama, Upper Bambara, Mandu, Jawei and Njaluahun – in the Kailahun district, as well as 535 orphans in 45 families in the Kenema district.

Explaining about SCoSL’s Ebola orphans project, Kamara said the organisation has its own unique definition of who an orphan is, and also does things differently from the others.

And the World Bank moves to keep things clear:

World Bank Group Supports Budget Management and Fiscal Transparency as Sierra Leone Responds to the Ebola Crisis

The World Bank Group’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a US$30 million grant to support the Government of Sierra Leone in its efforts to respond to the unprecedented challenges posed by the Ebola crisis.

Today’s financing includes a US$10 million grant from the World Bank Group’s International Development Association’s (IDA)* Crisis Response Window (CRW), which is designed to help low-income IDA countries recover from severe disasters and crises.

The Emergency Economic and Fiscal Support Operation will support Sierra Leone as it seeks to bring the Ebola epidemic under control by strengthening government budget management and reducing fiscal risks heightened by the crisis.

“The advent of the Ebola virus in May 2014 and the subsequent acceleration of the outbreak in late July have put extraordinary strain on the country,” said Francis Ato Brown, World Bank Country Manager for Sierra Leone. “This operation will benefit the people of Sierra Leone and the global community by minimizing the economic impact of the outbreak and thereby improving prospects for jobs, growth and other livelihood enhancing activities.”

And from the Sierra Leone Concord Times, a new modality:

President Koroma opens new Ebola Care Centre at Newton

President Ernest Bai Koroma yesterday opened a new Ebola Community Care Centre (CCC) at Newton, in the Western Rural as part of a scale up of services in the district to help stop the spread of Ebola.

“The Western Area is an Ebola hot zone,” said President Koroma. “The Community Care Centre provides an alternative to Ebola Treatment Units, where residents can seek diagnosis, isolation and early treatment in a safe and protected environment close to their homes. This is the first of two centers to be established in the district.”

Funded by DFID, UNICEF – in partnership with the government and NGOs – is constructing CCCs throughout Sierra Leone in response to the Ebola outbreak. The CCCs are small tented structures with an 8-24 bed capacity and can separate patients with dry and wet symptoms.

After the jump, on to Liberia and one complication from running an election during an outbreak, a harsh judicial critique of the election and a street bloody brawl between supporters of rival candidates [one being the president’s son], ports continue to be spared the epidemic, U.N. extends its military mission and announces a political campaign role, a day in a front line sprayer’s life, and the schools chief is eager to go. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Bugs, climates, water, & nukes


And more. . .

We begin with the bugs, via BBC News:

Brazil Olympics: Super-bacteria found in Rio sea waters

Researchers in Brazil have discovered drug-resistant bacteria in the sea waters where sailing and windsurfing events will be held during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The “super-bacteria” are usually found in hospital waste and produce an enzyme, KPC, resistant to antibiotics.

Researchers found the bacteria in samples taken from Flamengo beach.

Nearly 70% of sewage in Rio – a city of some 10 million people – is spilled raw into the waters of Guanabara Bay.

Asian bugs from Kyodo News:

Pathogenic bird flu strain detected at western Japan poultry farm

The Miyazaki prefectural government said early Tuesday morning that a genetic test confirmed a highly pathogenic H5 strain of avian influenza in three birds that earlier tested positive at a chicken farm in Nobeoka city in Japan’s top poultry producing prefecture.

The local government in western Japan started culling all the roughly 4,000 chickens raised at the farm at 2:30 a.m. In line with the law on preventing domestic animal infectious diseases, the government also asked nearby poultry farms to restrict the movements of livestock.

According to the prefecture, the farm in Nobeoka reported that 16 chickens died Monday, of which three preliminarily tested positive for bird flu. Ten chickens had died the day before, but tests results were negative.

On to climate with doubt from the New York Times:

Is a Two-Degree Limit on Global Warming Off Target?

The nations of the world agreed in 1992 to try to head off the worst damage, in an ambitious but vague treaty that called for action to prevent dangerous interference with the climate.

That raised the question of how much warming would be dangerous. In the mid-1990s, the German government picked up on the 2C finding as a way to breathe life into the treaty.

A decade of subsequent research added scientific support to the notion that 2C was a dangerous threshold. Experts realized, for example, that at some increase in global temperature, the immense Greenland ice sheet would begin an unstoppable melt, raising the level of the sea by as much as 23 feet over an unknown period. Their early calculations suggested that calamity would be unlikely as long as global warming did not exceed about 1.9 degrees Celsius.

“Risking a loss of the whole Greenland ice sheet was considered a no-go area,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, head of earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “We are talking about really sinking a lot of coastal cities.”

The Christian Science Monitor loses its cool:

Why Greenland could lose more of ice sheet than predicted

Newly discovered ‘winterproof’ lakes within the upper layers of the ice sheet in Greenland, as well as year-round aquifers, could speed the loss in a warming climate.

Researchers say they have uncovered perennial freshwater lakes embedded within the upper layers of Greenland’s ice sheet – previously unknown features that could play a role in the rate at which the sheet loses mass in a warming climate.

The discovery comes as glaciologists are still trying to digest news from a year ago that the southeastern section of the ice sheet hosts a year-round aquifer of liquid water. The aquifer covers some 27,000 square miles and ranges from 16 to nearly 165 feet thick, researchers have estimated. Since then, researchers have found other aquifers.

The perennial lakes and aquifers are acting as a kind of internal thermometer, signaling that “the ice sheet is warming, not only from the surface but internally as well,” noted Lora Koenig, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., during a briefing Monday at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The meeting runs through Friday.

The Los Angeles Times covers a potential seismic shift:

Earthquake could destroy L.A.’s water lifeline

Los Angeles gets 88% of its water from three major aqueducts, flowing from the Colorado River, Owens Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

But as they make their way into the region, the aqueducts cross the San Andreas fault a total of 32 times.

Officials have long warned that a massive temblor on the San Andreas could destroy key sections of the aqueducts, cutting off the water supply for more than 22 million people in Southern California.

L.A. officials are for the first time taking concrete steps to address the problem. Making L.A.’s water supply less vulnerable in a huge quake will probably cost billions, and it remains unclear where that money would come from.

And from the Sacramento Bee, keep it comin’:

California needs more big storms to beat drought

Despite the heavy storm that hit California last week – complete with flooded creeks and mudslides, closed highways and downed trees – it will take a lot more of the same to end the drought. In fact, experts say it may take five or six more storms like it to consider the drought over.

One reason is that, as wet as the storm seemed on Thursday and Friday, it was not so stormy everywhere. California’s water supplies are largely reliant on mountain snowpack, and this was a warm “Pineapple Express” storm. The state’s reservoirs had capacity to collect nearly all the rainfall runoff that flowed in. But the storm did not deliver a great deal of snow to the Sierra Nevada, which provides the snowmelt that California relies on in summer and fall.

The state needs a lot more storms – and cold ones – to assure there’s enough snowmelt to meet water demand next summer.

A species on the precipice from the Los Angeles Times:

5 northern white rhinos left in the world

With the death at San Diego Zoo Safari Park of a northern white rhino, the species is five animals away from extinction.

The death of Angalifu, a 44-year-old male northern white rhino, leaves an elderly female at the park, three in a Kenyan preserve and one at a Czech Republic zoo.

There were more than 2,000 northern whites in 1960, according to the World Wildlife Fund, but poachers obliterated the population. By 1984, there were about 15 of the rhinos left. That population was doubled by 1993 through aggressive conservation efforts. But heavily armed poaching gangs have now virtually annihilated the species, the WWF says.

Poachers are known to use helicopters, guns with silencers and night-vision equipment to harvest rhinos’ horns, which are in huge demand in Asia and sell for as much as $30,000 a pound.

The Guardian covers efforts to save another creature:

EU under pressure to ban diclofenac to protect Europe’s vultures

  • Veterinary drug for cattle that led to collapse of vulture populations of Asia is a risk to 55,000 birds, says European Medicines Agency

Pressure is mounting on Europe to immediately ban a drug used by vets which has been linked to the poisoning of vultures and other birds which feed on the corpses of cows treated with it.

The use of veterinary diclofenac, a pain-killing anti-inflammatory medecine given to livestock led to the unintentional but almost complete collapse of many vulture populations in Asia in 1990s and early 2000s. But a loophole in Europe allows it to be legally used in Spain and Italy where nearly all Europe’s estimated 55,000 vultures live.

Now, following an investigation of the death of a Spanish vulture in 2012, the European Medicines Agency has confirmed that vultures and other carrion-eating birds are at risk. The European commission asked the agency, which is responsible for the scientific evaluation of all medicines developed by EU drug companies, to consider the risks it posed to birds after scientists and ornithologists protested when Spain authorised use of the drug on cattle last year. A dose of just 0.1–0.2 mg/kg body weight can cause rapid, lethal kidney failure.

The first of a pair of stories from the Los Angeles Times with a common theme:

Keystone XL pipeline teed up as first debate in the new GOP Senate

Votes to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline will be the first of the new GOP-controlled Senate, the incoming majority leader promised Tuesday, as Republicans sought to move past internal divisions and confront President Obama.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the pledge on Keystone as Congress wraps up the final days of its lame duck session. Republicans are set to take control of the Senate in January, and broaden their ranks in the House.

“We’ll be starting the New Year with a job-creating bill that enjoys significant bipartisan support,” McConnell said.

And the second, via the Los Angeles Times:

Keystone XL pipeline may no longer make economic sense, experts say

With the GOP about to take control of both houses of Congress, backers of the pipeline say they are close to having a veto-proof majority for a bill that would order the Obama administration to give the project the federal permit required for pipelines that cross a U.S. border.

But “the political debate is not paralleled by the realities” in the market, said Sandy Fielden, director of energy analytics at Texas-based RBN Energy. “The economics of this project are becoming increasingly borderline.”

The problem is that extracting oil from tar sands is difficult and costly. Prices need to be relatively high to make the extra effort profitable.

For pipeline boosters, market conditions have turned gloomy as world oil prices have dropped to the lowest point in five years.

After the jump, electric car green cred questioned while growing economic clout wins organic farming tax breaks, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with a Fukushima Olympic bid, a triumphant Shinzo Abe gets ready to let the reactors rumble, a new tech plant pushes ahead, while owners of an aging reactor pair run a dog and pony media show, and close with a fecal holiday campaign. . . Continue reading

MexicoWatch: Remains, anger, numbers, more


We begin with another graphic, this time from the Accomplished Ignorant Tumblr:

BLOG Mexico

Next, the major development of the day from teleSUR:

Mexico: Human Remains Found in Ashes of Village Bonfire

  • Local media reports that remains found in Cocula may belong to missing Ayotzinapa students.

Members of the Union of Peoples and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (Upoeg) claim to have found human remains in the ashes of a bonfire burnt in La Barranca de la Carniceria, located in Cocula reports local media. According to Upoeg members, the remains are charred bones that may belong to the disappeared 43 Ayotzinapa teacher college students.

The remains were located based on information from witnesses that reported smoke.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, Upoeg representative, informed the Attorney General’s Office about the finding. Experts are expected to arrive at the scene on Monday to examine the remains.

National Public Radio covers a survivor:

Survivor Of Mexican Student Attacks Tells Of Bullet-Riddled Escape

  • In Mexico, authorities continue the investigation into the kidnapping and presumed murder of 43 students from a college in the southern state of Guerrero.

On a recent afternoon at the teaching school in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, I spoke to one man who says he survived the attacks on Sept. 26. NPR couldn’t independently confirm 22-year-old Carlos Martinez’s account, but it is consistent with other eyewitness versions and investigator’s statements.

That night back in September, three buses loaded with students headed out of the school toward Iguala, Guerrero, about an hour and a half away. Martinez, a junior at the school, says unfortunately they arrived just as the mayor’s wife was giving a political speech.

Thinking the students came to disrupt the event, and on orders of the mayor, police chased the students out of downtown and onto the main road, where Martinez says more patrol cars arrived and surrounded the buses.

The police jumped out and started shooting, Martinez says. More would come and start shooting, too. “You just heard shots everywhere,” he says.

From Turin, Italy, La Stampa’s Vatican Insider covers the religious response:

“They took them alive, we want them back alive!”

  • On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, millions of Mexicans prayed for the missing students from Ayotzinapa

While the hymns of the Missa Criolla were being sung in St. Peter’s Basilica, 10 thousand kilometres away, in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the following slogan was rolling off people’s lips: “They took them alive, we want them back alive!” The voices of protest at the disappearance of the students from Ayotzinapa did not stop even on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The day marked the 483rd anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Mount Tepeyac. But this anniversary will probably be remembered as the year of prayer for victims of violence in Mexico.

It was religious leaders themselves who referred indirectly to the events which shook Mexican public opinion. During the traditional Mass of Roses – the main celebration that marks the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe –, the Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico, Mgr. Christopher Pierre, prayed to the Virgin Mary to “comfort” victims of “violence” and “poverty” in Mexico.

From the altar of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Nuncio said: “We give thanks to you and pray for our many brothers and sisters in Mexico and around the world who are suffering as a result of violence, poverty and illness. May the Lord give them consolation and free them from evil, through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

From teleSUR, another major confirmation of what was suspected:

New Study Shows Federal Police Involved in Ayotzinapa Attack

  • The participation of federal forces in the attack opposes the official explanation of the events.

A new investigation on the case of the 43 Mexican students that disappeared on September 26 in the city of Iguala, Guerrero, shows that agents from the Federal Police planned the attack and took part in it.

On the night of September 26, Iguala municipal police and armed masked men shot and killed six people, including three students, in a confrontation while 43 other students were taken away. Their whereabouts remain a mystery.

According to the version by Mexican authorities, the armed men kidnapped the students and handed them to a local criminal gang known as United Warriors (Guerreros Unidos), then the students were burned to ashes in a dump near Iguala, which has not been confirmed by forensic experts.

From Deutsche Welle:

Mexicans fight back after student kidnappings

Program notes:

More than two months ago, 43 students disappeared in the Mexican state of Guerrero. They were abducted and then murdered, allegedly by local drug cartels with the assistance of the police and the mayor. Relatives and demonstrators are now campaigning against corruption and poverty.

More police violence against protesters, via teleSUR:

Mexico: Ayotzinapa Students and Teachers’ Repressed by Police

  • Parents of the 43 abducted students, journalists, as well as students and teachers from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college were injured during clashes in Chilpancingo.

Mexican Federal Police repressed early Sunday, in Chilpancingo, Guerrero, a group of students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training school, parents of the 43 Ayotzinapa abducted students, members of the State Coordinator of Education Workers of Guerrero (CETEG) as well as other students and journalists.

Around 17 people were injured during the clashes. They were denied medical care at the Chilpancingo Red Cross, therefore they were taken to other hospitals.

According to a statement published by the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (ANAD), a group of students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college were heading towards a place called “El Caballito” in Chilpancingo to begin preparations for a concert in support of their 43 missing partners, which was scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

More Chilpancingo violence, via Borderland Beat:

Family Members of the Three Youths Found Executed in Chihuahua Flee in Fear

  • As reported by El Diario Juárez

Members of the Archuleta family fled from the municipality due to the fear of suffering a new attack and the absence of security guarantees, as the authors of the forced disappearance and later assassination of three young men remain free and remain in the town, they denounced.

“We can no longer be here”, one of the members of this family told El Diario that he had to decline participating in the funeral service of his loved ones, but he refused to identify the site in which he was refuging.

In this town one can not bury their dead, lamented the bereaved.

“We are afraid to remain longer in the town”, said the person interviewed upon making what would be his last communication.

The fear, he affirmed, is because they are poor people, laborers, and without any relation with organized crime, despite the fact that they kidnapped his three relatives, tortured them, and killed them.

From Al Jazeera America, a logical suspicion:

Mexico’s police overhaul may not curtail violence, corruption

  • President Peña Nieto’s proposal to dismantle country’s municipal forces ignores state and federal collusion

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has a launched a proposal to overhaul the police force in Mexico, finally acting in response to the thousands of marchers protesting the deteriorated security system and disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero.

The proposal, which Peña Nieto introduced to Congress on Dec. 2, would radically reshape the structure of policing in Mexico, dismantling municipal police forces and replacing them with 32 state police corps. It’s a move designed to show action against corruption on the local level — tragically illustrated by the Iguala police officers who dutifully handed over the students to organized crime at the command of the mayor.

The plan, however, point blank ignores state and federal collusion, despite their obvious contribution to a growing sense of lawlessness in Mexico, and the overall proposal strikes many as a hodgepodge of old ideas.

“This is an improvised and ill-prepared strategy,” said Alejandro Orozco, a Mexico City–based senior security consultant with FTI Consulting. “The way it has been planned and presented contrasts sharply with the energy reform and other sets of reforms that had been developed since the beginning of Peña Nieto’s term and had involved negotiations with the opposition [parties].”

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times publishes the final of four major investigative pieces on the plight of the Mexican people who harvest the food for tables in the U.S.:

Children harvest crops and sacrifice dreams in Mexico’s fields

An estimated 100,000 Mexican children under 14 pick crops for pay. Alejandrina, 12, wanted to be a teacher. Instead, she became a nomadic laborer, following the pepper harvest from farm to farm.

Child labor has been largely eradicated at the giant agribusinesses that have fueled the boom in Mexican exports to the United States. But children pick crops at hundreds of small- and mid-size farms across Mexico, and some of the produce they harvest makes its way into American kitchens and markets.

The Times pieced together a picture of child labor on Mexican farms by interviewing growers, field bosses, brokers and wholesalers, and by observing children picking crops in the states of Sinaloa, Michoacan, Jalisco and Guanajuato.

Produce from farms that employ children reaches the United States through long chains of middlemen. A pepper picked by a child can change hands five or six times before reaching an American grocery store or salsa factory.

Data on child labor are scarce; many growers and distributors will not talk about it. About 100,000 Mexican children under 14 pick crops for pay, according to estimates in a 2012 study by the World Bank and other international agencies. It is illegal to employ workers younger than 15.

And the plight of Mexicans who work on farms across the U.S. border via Frontera NorteSur:

Border Farmworkers Still Lack Health Care

According to Harald Bauder, academic director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement, they are part of a larger global migration phenomenon that produces labor segmentation whereby the labor market is divided into primary and secondary segments.  In the secondary labor market, jobs are unstable and the market lacks enforcement of labor standards.  It is evident that farmworkers are laboring in the secondary labor market.

Over the summer, I interviewed 58 farmworkers in El Paso, Texas about their access to health care.  The farmworkers surveyed live and work in the U.S.-Mexico border area of West Texas and Southern New Mexico. The area studied contains approximately 12,000 farmworkers and, according to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, the workers in question earn an average of $9,000 per year for a family of four.  This is well below the annual income of $23,850, tagged as the poverty level for a family of four in 2014 by the U.S. Health and Human Services.

The abysmal wages earned by these farmworkers is even puzzling considering that, according to a 2012 report written by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, the net profit in 2011 for New Mexico’s agricultural industry was $1.35 billion. The farmworkers primarily labor in the chile and onion fields, two of the biggest cash crops in New Mexico.

A double tragedy, via teleSUR:

Most Missing People in Mexico Are Under 17

There are currently over 22,000 missing people in the country – 41 percent of them went missing during President Pena Nieto’s time in office.

More than 20,000 people are currently missing in Mexico, most of whom are underage children, according to nongovernment organizations in the country.

“We found out that six out of 10 missing people in Mexico are children, but there is no information of how they were kidnapped. We need much more information to take the right measures and find these kids,” said advocate Luis Alberto Barquera, from the Organization for Social Development and Education For All (ODISEA A.C).

Barquera also told the Mexican news site Sin Embargo that according to the National Registration of Missing People 2013, at least 59 percent of the disappeared people are children and teenagers from 0 to 17 years old.

And from the New York Times, the same is true on both sides of the border:

Mexico Faces Growing Gap Between Political Class and Calls for Change

As the Nobel Peace Prize was being awarded in Oslo this week, a young man dashed on stage, unfurled a Mexican flag streaked with red paint and begged for help for his country because more than 40 college students have been missing for months after clashing with the police.

At the Latin Grammy Awards ceremony in Las Vegas last month, the big winners, Calle 13, shouted solidarity with the victims as they performed. At home, mass marches have regularly filled Mexican streets with angry calls for the government to act against corruption and crime.

But is the country’s political class listening?

In the coming days, Mexico is expected to name a special prosecutor to investigate corruption — a supposed Elliot Ness who would spare no sacred cows and answer the clamor of the public. The prosecutor is supposed to finally root out bribery, favoritism, kickbacks and reveal the kinds of organized crime that prosecutors say were at play in the case of the missing students.

That kind of prosecutorial determination may be what the public demands. What it is getting, however, is a prosecutor with little of the independence necessary to carry out the stated mission, government watchdog groups say.

EnviroWatch: Climate, fracking, water, Fukushima


And much more. . .

We begin with an impasse from the Guardian:

Lima climate summit extended as early optimism is overtaken by discord

  • Talks stumble amid rising frustration over ‘ridiculously low’ cash commitments for emissions cuts from rich nations

Climate talks in Lima ran into extra time amid rising frustration from developing countries at the “ridiculously low” commitments from rich countries to help pay for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The talks – originally scheduled to wrap up at 12pm after 10 days – are now expected to run well intoSaturday , as negotiators huddle over a new draft text many glimpsed for the first time only morning.

The Lima negotiations began on a buoyant note after the US, China and the EU came forward with new commitments to cut carbon pollution. But they were soon brought back down to earth over the perennial divide between rich and poor countries in the negotiations: how should countries share the burden for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and who should pay?

Good news from StarAfrica:

Gambia malaria infection on the wane – Report

The infection level of malaria in The Gambia is gradually declining according to a report resulting from the latest medical research on its prevention in the country. According to the report, published in The Lancet, the world’s leading general medical journal and seen by APA on Friday the research was carried out in 96 Gambian villages targeting 8,000 children who were tested for malaria this year.

It attributed the drop in infection to the massive distribution of long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets across the country.

The report also pointed out that using treated bed nets is more effective than spraying insecticide chemicals in homes. “High bed net coverage is sufficient to protect people against malaria in areas of low or moderate transmission” it added.

The Lancet said the study is deemed significant as it was conducted in areas with differing transmission rates of malaria to further assess the effectiveness of combining insecticide sprays with treated bed nets.

Jiji Press sounds an alarm:

Japan on High Alert for Bird Flu

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is on high alert for bird flu, faced with outbreaks around the world.

This year, 245 avian influenza cases have been confirmed in South Korea, and the same bird flu virus strain spread in Europe, leading an official of the ministry to be concerned about “worldwide simultaneous, multiple outbreaks.”

In Japan, bird flu viruses have been found in the droppings of wild birds one after another. Almost throughout the year, South Korea has seen outbreaks of the highly pathogenic H5N8 subtype bird flu virus.

Water woes lead to a food crisis, via the Guardian:

UN: drought in Central America has pushed 2.5m people into food insecurity

  • Subsistence farmers, farm labourers and low-income families especially at risk as UN warns of ‘creeping humanitarian crisis’

A drawn-out drought in Central America has pushed 2.5 million people in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador into food insecurity, the UN warned Friday.

The drought in the three countries is “turning into a creeping humanitarian crisis”, Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva.

Subsistence farmers, farm labourers and low-income families were especially at risk, with young children and pregnant women considered the most vulnerable, he said.

A full 80% of farmers in the worst-hit areas of El Salvador had reported losing all of their crops, while 75% of maize and bean crops in Honduras and Guatemala had failed. The lack of rain has also resulted in the death of thousands of cattle.

Water woes farther South, from the Los Angeles Times:

Sao Paulo, Brazil, officials downplay water crisis as residents suffer

The water crisis is so bad in South America’s largest city that when rain began to dribble from the sky recently, workers in a downtown office high-rise stood up and cheered, running to the windows to celebrate each drop.

A majority of city residents recently surveyed said their water has stopped flowing at some point, usually at night. In some neighborhoods, people say their homes have no water service at all. Although scientists say that the drought has its roots in such changes as deforestation, analysts say poor planning and political manipulation by local authorities have exacerbated the crisis.

Authorities insist that they have not shut off the supply to any neighborhoods and that problems caused by a loss of water pressure may affect 1% to 2% of homes. They recommend that residents use home water tanks. But they acknowledge that without huge amounts of rain over the next months — “floods,” said National Water Agency President Vicente Andreu — the crisis will intensify.

From CBC’s News’s The National, a Canadian import:

Toxic waste from Love Canal coming to Canada

Program notes:

Up to 100 truckloads of toxic material that traces back to Love Canal are being sent to Canada.

Euopean neoliberal deregulation advances in Europe, via EurActiv:

Commission plans to ditch circular economy and air pollution rules

The European Commission plans to scrap its flagship Circular Economy package and anti-air pollution rules next week.

The executive will ditch the rules from its 2015 work programme, sources told EurActiv. That is set to be announced on Wednesday (17 December).

The Circular Economy package is designed to increase resource efficiency and recycling, and the Clean Air Package imposes rules that set member states’ air quality targets.

Sources told EurActiv that Commissioners were handed a secret document yesterday (10 December) at their weekly meeting. The document, outlining a list of bills to be killed off by Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, was taken back from the Commissioners, after it was read and discussed.

Getting slick with United Press International:

Oil slick threatens N.J.’s Sandy Hook Bay

An oil slick discovered in Sandy Hook Bay off the coast of New Jersey could threaten marine life and a federal park, officials said.

The 1-mile-long, 50-yard-wide slick was discovered Thursday about 1.5 miles west of the U.S. Coast Guard station at the northern tip of Sandy Hook. When it was first discovered, the slick had measured 2 miles long and 400 miles wide, but had shrunk as of Friday.

Coast Guard crews installed a boom off Horseshoe cove to protect an environmentally sensitive area from the oil spill.

“We’re concerned. We’re very concerned about this,” said Pete McCarthy, unit coordinator of Sandy Hook for the National Park Service. “We’re worried about what it’s going to do to the shoreline, obviously, (and) what it’s going to do to wildlife.”

Degreening, via the Independent:

New era of cheap oil ‘will destroy green revolution’

The collapsing oil price that is reshaping the global economy could derail the green energy revolution by making renewable power sources prohibitively bad value, experts have warned.

Oil tumbled below $60 a barrel for the first time in more than five years yesterday – a fall of 44 per cent since June. It is forecast to fall further.

“Renewable energy subsidies have been mostly sold to the public on the basis of the economic benefits,” said Peter Atherton, an energy analyst with Liberum Capital. “But the economic arguments hinged on the idea that fossil fuel prices would get more expensive, while expensive renewable subsidies would be able to come down over time. That’s looking doubtful now.”

Anne Robinson, director of consumer policy at the uSwitch price comparison website, said: “More subsidies are likely to be needed [for green power] as the gap between the cost of fossil fuel power and renewable power gets bigger.” The extra subsidies would be borne by households in the form of higher energy bills.

After the jump, more studies reveal fracking health risks as Spain’s neoliberal regime makes a fracking push, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with a deal struck to an interim nuclear waste storage site, a regulators decree that a cement fix will plug underground hot water leaks, nuclear watchdog calls for a massive radioactive water release into the Pacific, South Koreans book a visit, while a volcanic eruption warning sounds for a volcano in the same province, a reactor startup nears in another province, and reactor restarts figure in regional politics as protests continue, While Germans remain nuclear power consumers thanks to a Swiss connection. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Health, land, water, nukes, more


We begin with the fruits of over-prescribed antibiotics, poorly compliant patients, and endless dosing of livestock crammed together in factory farms, via BBC News:

Superbugs to kill ‘more than cancer’ by 2050

Drug resistant infections will kill an extra 10 million people a year worldwide – more than currently die from cancer – by 2050 unless action is taken, a study says.

They are currently implicated in 700,000 deaths each year.

The analysis, presented by the economist Jim O’Neill, said the costs would spiral to $100tn (£63tn). He was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron in July to head a review of antimicrobial resistance.

Mr O’Neill told the BBC: “To put that in context, the annual GDP [gross domestic product] of the UK is about $3tn, so this would be the equivalent of around 35 years without the UK contribution to the global economy.”

Médecins Sans Frontières battles another lethal epidemic in the Ebola hot zone:

Sierra Leone: 1.5 million people in a country affected by Ebola receive drugs to prevent malaria

As part of its ongoing emergency response to Ebola in West Africa, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has carried out the largest-ever distribution of antimalarials in Sierra Leone, alongside the Ministry of Health. Teams distributed 1.5 million antimalarial treatments to residents of Freetown and five districts in the surrounding Western Area over four days, with the aim of protecting people from malaria during the disease’s peak season.

“In the context of Ebola, malaria is a major concern, because people who are sick with malaria have the same symptoms as people sick with Ebola,” said Patrick Robataille, MSF field coordinator in Freetown. “As a result, most people turn up at Ebola treatment centres thinking that they have Ebola, when actually they have malaria. It’s a huge load on the system, as well as being a huge stress on patients and their families.”

Sierra Leone has the fifth highest prevalence of malaria globally, and the disease is the biggest killer of children under five in the country. Malaria symptoms include high fever, dizziness, headaches, muscle aches and fatigue, many of which are similar to the symptoms of early stage Ebola.

The United News Press Center covers food worries:

UN agency reports record cereal crop as Ebola, conflict threaten food security

Despite world cereal production likely to reach an all-time record of more than 2.5 billion tonnes in 2014, a total of 38 countries are at risk of food insecurity, including 29 in Africa, with food insecurity worsening in several countries due to civil conflicts, adverse weather and the Ebola outbreak, according to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report released today.

The latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation Report shows that while bumper crops in Europe and a record maize output in the United States of America pushed cereal output 0.3 per cent higher than last year, agriculture and food sectors in many countries were hit by significant, damaging shocks.

In West Africa, the Ebola outbreak, which began when crops were being planted and gathered pace during the farming cycle, led to a reduced harvest. Rice and cassava prices showed “notable increases” in the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, and other cities in September. Harvests were also reduced by bad weather in the Sahel region, with agricultural output in Senegal expected to be 38 per cent below average.

Conflict was responsible for serious impacts on food insecurity in several countries, including Syria, where a weak harvest, due to abandoned land, scarce labour, and damaged infrastructure, was exacerbating the effects of worsening civil conflict. An estimated 6.8 million Syrians – some refugees in neighbouring countries – faced severe food insecurity, with the situation in Iraq, where 2.8 million people were displaced, also acutely serious.

In the Central African Republic (CAR), increased violence, coupled with crop production 58 per cent below average, put one third of the population in need of urgent food assistance. Prices of agricultural commodities have shot up by as much as 70 per cent this year and one in four households has resorted to negative coping strategies, including selling productive assets and slaughtering livestock.

Pressure on food supplies also came from refugee movements, the report said, especially from Sudan’s Darfur region, northern Nigeria, the CAR and Mali. More than 6.5 million people need food and livelihood assistance in Chad, South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia.

From the Guardian, eugenic medicine in Old Blighty:

Devon drops plan to ban smokers and the obese from routine operations

  • Health bosses previously said that due cuts patients would need body mass index below 35, while smokers would have to quit

Health bosses in Devon have abandoned plans to ban smokers or the morbidly obese from undergoing routine operations until they quit the habit or lose weight.

The Northern, Eastern and Western Devon clinical commissioning group had previously said that due to temporary cost-cutting measures, patients would be expected to have a body mass index below 35, while smokers would have to quit eight weeks before surgery.

The proposals announced last week made national headlines and even led to one Labour MP claiming in the House of Commons that the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, and communities secretary, Eric Pickles, would be refused operations on smoking and weight grounds respectively.

The land game goes on, via the Los Angeles Times:

Massive bill would protect some wilderness, open other public land

A massive military policy bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last week, now awaiting approval by the Senate, contains something you might not expect: dozens of public-land measures that would redefine the use of hundreds of thousands of acres of wildland across America.

The bill, scheduled for a key procedural vote in the Senate on Thursday, designates nearly 250,000 acres of new wilderness in several Western states and places hundreds of thousands of additional acreage off-limits to drilling and mining. It also opens up more than 110,000 acres of wildlands as far away as Alaska for logging, oil and gas development, mining and infrastructure improvements.

It’s the biggest wilderness-lands bill since 2009, the product of a rough compromise that manages to protect such treasures as the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana while opening up majestic stands of old-growth timber in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to the chain saw. All of this is under the umbrella of a bill to authorize $585 billion needed to keep the U.S. military in business — who wants to vote no?

A grim statistic from BuzzFeed News:

There Are 48 Times More Pieces Of Plastic In The Ocean Than There Have Been Humans Ever

There are “at least 5.25 trillion plastic particles” in the world’s oceans, a new study found.

The study, published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, points out that “plastic pollution is ubiquitous throughout the marine environment.” To study the problem, scientists consequently embarked on a series of 24 expeditions to look at and haul up plastic. The researchers ultimately visited 1,571 locations around the world.

The researchers also estimated that all the plastic in the ocean weighs 268,940 tons. And that’s “highly conservative,” they wrote, because even more plastic may be lying around on beaches, inside animals, on the seabed, or hidden elsewhere in the water.

Of course, a lot of those pieces are very, very small. The study found that 92.4% of the particles were “microplastics” that are 4.75 millimeters or less thick. Still, most of those particles came from larger pieces breaking up. And larger “macroplastics” — things like fishing gear, old buoys, and bottles — actually contributed the most to the overall weight of the the oceans’ plastic content.

The energy flows, via the Guardian:

Tony Abbott says Australia may send uranium and coal to Ukraine

  • Prime minister tells Ukraine’s president exports from Australia could help secure Ukraine’s energy source

Australia is considering exporting coal and uranium to Ukraine it was announced, as the leaders of the two countries met for a historic state visit.

President Petro Poroshenko became the first Ukrainian leader to visit Australia, after accepting an invitation from the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, to discuss security issues in the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July.

“The MH17 atrocity has brought our countries together in a remarkable way,” Abbott told reporters on Thursday.

“I want to say thank you to you, Petro, for the help and assistance that Ukraine and your government gave to Australia and our citizens in the aftermath of that terrible atrocity. And coming from this tragedy, I believe will be a strong and lasting friendship between the Australian people and the Ukrainian people,” Abbott said.

After the jump, rhino horn trade explodes, government officials are suspected, and an ivory smuggling suspect is busted, Fukushima-pocalypse Now! ain’t goin’ green, and anti-nuclear activists target California’s last working nuclear power plant. . . Continue reading

MexicoWatch: Parents, cartels, a plea, and a reality


We begin with another graphic response to the abduction and presumed murders of the 43 students from a poor rural teachers college in the state of Guerrero which triggered a national crisis of conscience.

From sinembargo.mx, a repurposing of a state-sponsored family planning mural in Oaxaca:

BLOG AYotziinapa

From the Latin American Herald Tribune, the parents make a demand:

Families of Missing Students Seek Suspension of Guerrero Government Powers

The families of the 43 missing students in Mexico are seeking the suspension of powers of the government of Guerrero state where the disappearances occurred because of infiltration by organized crime.

The suspension was requested in a document submitted to Senate representatives at a meeting on Tuesday at which the families also asked the legislative body to join in the search for the students.

At the meeting between the families and political representatives in the Senate, Vidulfo Rosales, legal counsel for the families, presented their demands, the most important of which was that the students be returned alive.

teleSUR covers an offer from north of the border:

Obama Offers Mexico Assistance in Finding the Missing Students

  • President Obama offered Mexican president forensic assistance in the case of the now 42 disappeared students.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that his administration has offered help to the Mexican government in order to solve the case of the 43 students that were abducted the night of September 26.

“We’ve offered assistance in tracking down exactly what happened, our forensic capabilities, our capacity to get to the bottom of exactly what happened,” Obama told TV network Telemundo in an interview.

“The problem with drug traffickers is a chronic one that in some cases means they’ve taken complete control of towns and regions,” he said. Obama also said United States could contribute to improve the criminal justice system and the investigation capabilities of authorities from a federal level down to a municipal level.

Via Borderland Beat, a telling report from Sky News:

Mexican Sicario/Hitmen Held In Autodefensas “Jail”

Program notes:

Sky News published this story of autodefensas High in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains “arresting” Caballeros Templarios, incarcerating suspects in their makeshift jail.

From Sky News, critical context:

Mexico’s Unstoppable Cycle Of Death

  • Mexico’s drugs trade has killed tens of thousands, and those who have never been found are known as the “Disappeared”.

In the hills above the town of Iguala, a group of families gather to start a search for new mass graves. They have already found three.

Above them, vultures swoop and turn in the deep blue skies.

Dogs had started turning up in nearby villages with human body parts.

Mexico has been in the grip of a staggering crime wave that saw, by some estimates, 120,000 people killed in the six years to 2012.

Another 27,000 people are missing. Rounded up by local police, they were handed to one of the country’s notorious cartel gangs and “disappeared”: a common expression succinct in its accurate brevity.

And a Sky News again, a video report:

Mexico’s Drug Cartels: Who’s Fighting Who?

Program notes:

Dr Thomas Rath, a Lecturer in Latin American history, breaks down the regional impact of the drug trade.

Finally, from a companion Sky News article, that map of drug syndicate turf boundaries:

BLOG drugs

teleSUR covers a presidential plea:

The Ayotzinapa Case Should Not Be Avoided: Correa

  • Ecuador’s president brought up the Ayotzinapa case at the Ibero-American summit, despite Mexican efforts to avoid the topic.

Mexico’s current crisis should not be left out of the topics discussed at the Ibero-American Summit said Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, in an interview with Spanish news agency EFE.

Despite the efforts of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs to avoid the topic of the abduction of the 43 Ayotzinapa students at the 24th Ibero-American Summit, Correa said that not only should the topic be disucssed, but that there needs to be a “common regional response.”

Correa is one of the many leaders attending the summit to raise the issue of the teacher-training students, who went missing between Sept. 26 and 27, which has caused public outcry and mass rallies for the state corruption the case has unearthed.

TheLocal.no covers an enigma:

Man with Mexican flag disrupts Nobel ceremony

A man who disrupted the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for unclear reasons while brandishing a Mexican flag in Oslo on Wednesday was arrested, Norwegian police said.

Dressed in a grey jacket and black trousers and with a camera hanging around his neck, the man brandished the Mexican flag in front of Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and India’s Kailash Satyarthi as the Nobel laureates received their prize to rapturous applause.

Police led the man outside Oslo City Hall, where the ceremony was being held.

And from The Real News Network a Sharmini Peries interview of Professor John M. Ackerman of the National Autonomous University of Mexico [UNAM], editor-in-chief of the Mexican Law Review, and columnist with both La Jornada newspaper and Proceso magazine:

A Second Mexican Revolution in The Works

And excerpt from the transcript:

PERIES: So, John, President Nieto is obviously observing all of this and he has revealed a plan to boost the economy in, at least, the southwestern region recently. This is the area where the 43 students went missing. Do you think the plan will address the underlying economic issues that are required at this time?

ACKERMAN: That’s a good question. This ten-point plan is a very insufficient and in fact counterproductive move on the side of Peña Nieto. We can look at it both politically and economically.

Politically it’s a failure because what is a political crisis of his government, the legitimacy [incompr.] his government he is trying to resolve through very minor bureaucratic, technical fixes, like changing the national emergency number from 066 to 911, creating a national identity card. Mexico already has a national identity card, but they’re going to give it a new name and a different procedure for making it, making local police more dependent on state police, municipal and state police. These are all sort of bureaucratic switching of gears and moving things around, administrating the crisis, which is not going to resolve anything when the crisis is political and it’s about legitimacy at its root.

And on the other side he announced new economic programs which aren’t really new either. These new economic programs are basically the expansion of neoliberal policies towards southern Mexico. This is the dream of Vicente Fox. When Vicente Fox, the president from the right-wing PAN Party, who came into power in 2000, when he came into power, he announced something called the Plan Puebla Panamá, the Puebla Panamá Plan, which was basically turning the whole southern part of Mexico, the isthmus, if you want, the /?p?k?n/ in Oaxaca into a big enclave for the maquilas, bringing the whole model of underdevelopment of the north in Mexico down to the south.

And most importantly–and this is what Peña Nieto’s really trying to do–is disarticulate and weaken the bonds of solidarity and of community development. This is very much of an indigenous historical area, Guerrero and Chiapas and Oaxaca full of community organizing and of revolutionary ideals. So through his sort of economic plan, which is, again, these enclaves for international capital, what he’s trying to do is also have this political project of dearticulating, disarticulating the networks of solidarity which are creating the uprising today.

Last, from the Los Angeles Times, the second in a series of articles on the reality of life faced by the families of millions in Mexico:

Desperate workers on a Mexican mega-farm: ‘They treated us like slaves’

  • Scorpions and bedbugs. Constant hunger. No pay for months. Finally, a bold escape leads to a government raid, exposing deplorable conditions. But justice proves elusive.

When the mistreatment of workers at the camp was finally exposed, Mexican authorities made arrests, imposed fines and promised to make an example of the company. A year and a half later, however, the case of Bioparques speaks more to the impunity of Mexican agribusiness than to accountability.

Bioparques is emblematic of Mexico’s agricultural miracle. Its owner, Eduardo De La Vega, has transformed the region around San Gabriel, south of Guadalajara, into an export powerhouse with 500 acres of greenhouses, a packing plant and an executive airstrip.

Able to harvest 10 months out of the year, the company grows tomatoes on a massive scale at the Bioparques mega-farm in San Gabriel and a second in the state of Sinaloa, Agricola La Primavera. It has sent as many as 6 million boxes of tomatoes a year to the U.S. from the two locations. They are sold under the Kaliroy brand name.

The first part in what will be a four-part series is here.